Hunger is not complicated

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash

While SWS has been doing quarterly surveys on hunger since 1998, it had initially used just the simple term “hunger.” At one point in time, though, it changed the word “hunger” into “involuntary hunger.” By coincidence, a sitting president at that time said that she, too, felt hungry at times because she was trying to lose weight.

Be that as it may, involuntary hunger is more succinct when trying to explain hunger. In other words, the hunger we refer to and most others refer to is not self-imposed as part of a diet program to lose weight. The hunger is involuntary, the hunger none wants to experience but is forced by circumstances beyond each one’s control to experience and suffer.

Hunger is simple, but we cannot eradicate it. Why? More than 20 years of surveyed hunger and most probably decades before that, the Philippines, both the government and the Filipino people, never managed to defeat it. In the 80s, during martial law, headlines that spread across the world depicted starvation in Negros, enhanced by the photo of an emaciated child. I am not particular about appetite, though, but am sure of hunger and malnutrition.

If you feed a hungry person, you do not need to justify why. When you do not provide a hungry person, you need to explain it to yourself, and maybe to a god you believe in. That is how simple hunger is.

“Hunger is simple, but we cannot eradicate it. Why? More than 20 years of surveyed hunger and most probably decades before that, the Philippines, both the government and the Filipino people, never managed to defeat it.”

What complicates hunger or complicates it enough to make it undefeatable? For one, there is not enough caring in us, and not enough of us caring. That is the simple and main reason. When it can take only 25 pesos to have a meal for one person, there must be tens of millions of us who can afford 25 pesos for one meal. Many can afford to give 25 pesos a week, which translates to 52 meals in one year. Many more can afford to give 50 pesos a week, allowing 104 meals a year for 104 hunger incidences.

There must be at least 60% of Filipinos (assuming 40% are too young) who belong to the upper 20% of society who are not poor but the opposite. I suspect that the wealthiest 20% of Filipino families must own or control more than 90% of the nation’s wealth. It seems reasonable to presume that the adults among them can afford to donate three meals a day, or 75 pesos, every day of their lives. That alone eliminates hunger in the Philippines.

Simple, is it not? Doable, is it not? Yet, it does not happen. Additionally, many Filipinos in this top 20% economic class give much more than 75 pesos a day multiplied by 365 days and multiplied by many years. Many of their corporations give millions of pesos to feed hungry people and communities. Yet, hunger persists.

“How could a simple problem with a simple solution continue to inflict unimaginable suffering on millions of hungry Filipinos? A simple problem, a simple question, a simple answer – those who can feed or give money to feed do not care enough, and those who care are simply not enough.”

The National Government, mainly through DSWD, and LGUs also budget and spend money to mitigate hunger. In combination with resources from the private sector, it is scandalous how hunger mocks all of us, year after year, administration after administration, decade after decade. How could a simple problem with a simple solution continue to inflict unimaginable suffering on millions of hungry Filipinos? A simple problem, a simple question, a simple answer – those who can feed or give money to feed do not care enough, and those who care are simply not enough.

Poverty is more complicated. True, hunger is one face of poverty, and it is simple enough. However, poverty has more than one face. It has landlessness or the lack of security of tenure, which results in homelessness, or the building of permanent and study homes. That same landlessness or legal land rights also negates the real possibility of small farming that can substantially mitigate hunger and become a source of income. There is also a lack of employment or economic opportunities; these ugly faces create poverty when combined and fused. Poverty is more complicated.

Let us not complicate hunger. Let us not confuse feeding people with anti-poverty programs. Feed and do anti-poverty work, but feed as a priority whether we do anti-poverty work or not.

It will most probably be a combination of both anti-hunger and anti-poverty work that society, in general, will continue to do. And that is good because there are enough resources, heart, and talent to do both – but never at the expense of hunger.

“If they do not care enough for the hungry today, they will not care enough when elected. More because they will have much more excuses when in office. We can measure the sincerity or the hypocrisy of candidates.”

It is now the political season, its formal season. Candidates have filed to run for office, and the next few months will be very dedicated to preparing for the open campaign period. We will hear all sorts of promises during this political season, most of which will never happen. Not that all will break the promises, but most will lose and feel excused if they do not make any of their commitments. The promises are made on the basis that they will win and control people’s resources, not theirs.

If the hungry, or even their votes, are essential to the candidates, all of them should endorse their followers to feed them. Or, better, initiate feeding themselves. If they do not care enough for the hungry today, they will not care enough when elected. More because they will have much more excuses when in office. We can measure the sincerity or the hypocrisy of candidates.

The lesser number will win and will have the opportunity to fulfill their promises. I have gone through over 50 years of elections; hunger remains unsolved. It will still be there after the 2022 elections. Unless candidates now all pledge that they will prioritize feeding the hungry in their respective areas and that all candidates begin today. That way, even the eventual losers would have helped in the cause to eliminate hunger.

As for those who will win, as the saying goes, we shall see.

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